Over the horizon she saw the skies turn orange and then deep red. She felt a rush of energy. That’s when she understood. Ghosts get drunk on sunsets.
First Draft. I wasn’t intending to publish this as a blog. But I ran out of time and these were the words I wrote for the day. All 1,600-words plus. I wanted to test whether I can do Nanowrimo. It looks like I’ve got a chance! But heavy editing and revisions are needed, of course!
Filipinos are big believers of ancient spirits. Not just any spirits but spirits with big personalities. There’s a section in heaven dedicated to them alone. If you put the Greeks, the Italians and Filipinos in that same corner, all hell would break loose.
God doesn’t mind spirited debates. But when Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter were invented, he chucked a spewy. Can’t get any work done! So he sent all the Filipinos and their iPhones packing. They can stay in heaven for eternity or they can holiday back on earth. The only restriction is they can only hang out near their graveyard. Humans need peace and quiet, too. They will also, like all happy spirits that got a ticket to heaven, have no power to scare people. If they attempt to do so, all the human would feel is a tiny peck on the cheek. Or the feeling of a small bird perching on your shoulders.
If ever a happy spirit wants to connect with the present world, they can do so, but only to communicate, watch and talk to the dead spirits of their family and select friends (to which I’ll get to later).
And that’s where I come in. I am a recently deceased member of the Baltazars. A family that extends back to the 15th century in terms of the graveyard that is currently in the La Union cemetery. There are other Baltazars before the 15th century but they are all in Normandy, France. They are not quite as spirited as the Baltazars of La Union. They haven’t spoken for thousands of years, to be honest.
Back to me. I died after I accidently stepped onto an explosive on Harbour Bridge. Who knew? I was on one of my morning runs, silently counting the steps I’ve taken. 4,589. 4,591. 4,601. Then kaboom! Dead on the spot. I was a goner. Shot up to heaven like a shooting star. One minute I was speaking to St. Peters, the next minute I was in the Pintados festival of my childhood. I looked down, the heavens opened and I saw everyone crying. I wish that I could cry, too. But all I felt was nothingness. My energy, angst, pain, joy, disappointments, needs, hunger all exploding into little bursts of energy that pushed the waves to the shore. I was back to being part of the universe and that was that.
One day as I was watching my childhood memories merged with my childhood dreams, my sliding doors and my parallel universes, I looked around and found myself wondering. Where are my relatives? Where is lolo? Where is lola? Shouldn’t tita Auring be here? (p.s. This is of course something they don’t tell you. Heaven is the manifestation of all your dreams and desires. If you lived a decent life on earth and didn’t set out to hurt anyone, you get to live the life you wanted to live. Every sacrifice on earth equals a reward in heaven. So, lucky for me, I have made a lot of sacrifices when I was alive. My afterlife is one big resort of all my Hollywood dreams.
So, back to the question. What happened to my dead relatives? Where are they now? Why am I alone? Wasn’t someone meant to welcome me and show me around?
As if on cue, God’s voice boomed, hovering over my head:”Your relatives are hanging out elsewhere. They are at La Union Cemetery in the Baltazar Maoseleum. You will find them under the mango tree.”
“Oh my goodness. Thanks, God! How are you? What have you been up to?”
“You know, Syria.”
“Can I pass?”
“Sure. But you’ll be getting a text on it shortly.”
“What is shortly?”
“Time doesn’t mean anything here. Enjoy!”
And with that I entered some sort of office building. Lots of angels around. Not really working. More like loitering. Waiting for people to talk to. People like me. I think this is the Information Office.
So my question was, where are my relatives?
I said this with a tiny voice as I wasn’t really sure. The angel looked me in the eye and in his eyes I found my answer.
The vortex was long and narrow. I felt like a gel rubber massaged and molded as I went down the hole. Like memories being taken out of me and injected into me. I felt sated. I was being fed something that kept me full.
Then before I knew it, I was spat out the other end and it was humid and dry. The smell of dry leaves. Burnt crisp. I wasn’t in heaven anymore. I was in the Philippines. And more imprtantly, I was right in front of the Baltazar graveyard.
I didn’t really know what to expect. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be teleported to a cemetery. Certainly not this one. I thought I’d be traipsing around Bondi Beach. Spend the rest of eternity on the Bondi to Coogee walk. I thought ghosts end up spending the after life doing what they love doing in perpetuity. Or being trapped in the exact moment of death. If it were unexpected.
But I guess there are many misconceptions about the afterlife. There’s no way to prove them until you’re on the other side. I learnt this today. Or is it tomorrow already? Am I in yesterday? Time doesn’t count in a straight line.
So there I was. My funeral dress flapping in the wind. I am waiting for something to happen but nothing did. I don’t know how long I was waiting for but I just stood there. I had nothing to do. No books. No phone. No food. Why am I not hungry? This is weird. I need to get hungry soon.
Then just as I was about to turn around. Find out what’s going on in the afterlife, I felt a lightning bolt strike me in the head and all my hair stood up. I looked like a barbq-ed ghost. Then to my right I heard a women’s voice. “Oops, sorry. That wasn’t supposed to hit you.” I accidently got hit by lightning. What are the chances of that happening? As if it could hear me think. “Twice. Lightning strikes twice!”
I didn’t know what to say. Other than I looked at my burnt feet and I could see my toes crumble. But just as they started disappearing they re-appeared. I was back to staring at my funeral dress.
Then in chorus: “PSSSSSSSTTTTTTTT!!!”
What the hell!?!
I looked up and there’s a small party gathered under the mango tree. They all looked old. Some appeared young but felt old. I could feel hundreds of years flowing through their … what is it … body?
Never in a million years did I think this would happen.
“But in a thousand years?” Said that voice again. Which was starting to annoy me (except I think it’s my voice but it’s coming from someone else)
There stood in front of me, FIVE Baltazars.
“Voltes Five!” said one. Laughing to himself. The woman just rolled her eyes.
There I was. In front of my ancestral welcoming committee.
Great-great-great grandpa. great great grand ma. great grandpa. And two people I don’t know. Is that … Jose Rizal? Neh.
They all looked at me with surprise.
“What are you doing here?”
“What are *you* doing here?”
I’m looking for my relatives.
We know who you are but what are you doing here?
“I want to know who I am.”
“Who you were?”
“No such thing as proper tenses here.”
“What for? Because there’s no Netflix in the afterlife! What else can I do? Where do you get food around here?”
“I have answers for you,” said the eldest in the bunch. “How much time do you have?”
“I don’t know. How much time to I have?”
“All the time you need.”
I looked around. There are mangoes everywhere. Mangoes in the tree, mangoes on the ground, the sweet smell of mangoes in the air.
“This place is supposed to smell like candles. Or flowers. It corpses.”
“Instead it smells like mangoes. Mangoes you couldn’t eat.”
“These mangoes are the yummiest mangoes in the world. They come from our blood and bones.”
“Are they really? Do you know how this tree came to be? Do you know why I lived and died here?”
“It’s a boring story. Don’t worry about it,” said the ghost with no legs. “Look at me. I bet you’re wondering how I lost my legs.”
A whole pile of mangoes fell on the ghost with no legs.
“Didn’t you always wonder how you got the last name ‘Baltazar’?”
“Yes. I’ve always wondered. Some said it’s from Goa. My dad said it’s from Paris. I guessed it’s sheer luck. That the Mexicans who came to the Philippines baptised a random group of people with the last name Baltazar.”
“But why. Why does it matter to you?”
“Because I felt out if place. I felt like I didn’t belong.”
“Belong where?” they all said in chorus.
“I don’t know. Belong somewhere. I need to get to a place where I feel like I am … home.”
“Isn’t it enough you’re in heaven?”
“I thought that was the end. Then you guys appeared.”
“God does have a wicked sense of humor.”
“Aren’t you a closet atheist?”
“Yeah. I was grossly mistaken.”
“What is your goal?”
“I thought you stop having goals after you die.”
“Where are you getting all these information from?”
“It all sounded like sensible assumptions.”
“Okay, I think it’s time to have a drink”
“I thought ghosts don’t eat or drink.”
All the ghosts started walking towards the corner of the cemetery. They sat next to each other as if waiting for something.
Over the horizon she saw the skies turn orange and then deep red. She felt a rush of energy.
And that’s when she understood. Ghosts get drunk on sunsets.